Tag Archives: Sucre

I should be at a trance party, so what am I doing here?

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Some day time revellers keep going at the rave (photo: Carl Maybry©)

IT’S FRIDAY AND I SHOULD be in Uyuni with new friends partying at a windpowered goa-trance festival on the Salt Flats outside of Uyuni in Bolivia, but I’m ill. Another bout of food poisoning has crippled me.

I let my friends know that I can’t come. A day on the bus followed by a weekend of all-nighter hedonism when I’m spinning out and have only just stopped puking? Not a great idea. But I’m gutted.

My day comprises of sleeping and Skype chats. It’s taking me ages to do anything. My eyes are heavy so after my lunchtime snack of cough medicine and probiotics, I end up snoozing some more.

One of my friends drops me a message to say that a local told him ‘the raves out on the Salar de Uyuni aren’t all that great anyway’. Momentarily I feel better but then I look at pictures of the salt flats, imagine 180° of starry sky and I’m back to frustrated envy.

I venture out of the hostel for the first time in a couple of days. Destination: pharmacy.  I need to stock up on potent cough syrup. Two more bottles, the doctor reckons, that’s at least another week of codeine stupor. I walk slowly with consideration; I am spinning out and not totally sure that I won’t faint.

The doctor has banned me from eating out, despite it often being cheaper, so I make myself a package soup and tart it up with some vegetables. Hopefully this time the food will stay down. It doesn’t.

I don’t have the energy to be my social self and initiate conversation with all the new people in the hostel, but I chat a little with the owner’s son. Spanish practise. He’s not feeling well either, although it’s definitely something different. His Bolivian belly is resistant to the food and water bugs. Tourists, he says, always get sick at some point.

I watch a movie but I can’t focus. I keep imagining a mass of bodies bouncing to a beat. I’ve never been to a trance party. Travelling for me is about trying new things and stepping out of my comfort zone. This would have been perfect. I’ve never liked trance music. I don’t think.

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Another whack of medication. Doped out.

I wake up on Saturday feeling pretty good considering that if you shook me, I’d rattle. I take a shower. I’m so spaced out from all the medication that I get stuck into a stare. I wonder if the way I’m feeling is anything similar to how it feels to be on ketamine. Why ketamine, I’m not sure. It must have cropped up in conversation recently. I’m tingly and dizzy and a bit numb. I’m trying to flip this on its head, trying to enjoy the feeling. I’m listening to Salmonella Dub and I wonder what genre Salmonella Dub is. I’ve never been good at classifying music. Whatever, it’s my own zone out party.  I’m sure I’m in the shower for far too long. Zombiefied.

The rain arrives. ‘I’ve never seen rain in Bolivia’, says a guy I meet in the kitchen over a cup of tea. Talking about the weather. I could do this in England. I do do this in England. Actually, I do this everywhere. My one bit of Englishness comes with me.

And the day continues pretty uneventfully. I manage to get out to buy a bus ticket to Uyuni for the following day. The rain makes me a bit soggy, which isn’t clever when I’m still sick. Bare feet weren’t the smartest move. I buy some shoes. Retail therapy, not my thing at all, but it works. If I’d gone to the rave I wouldn’t have been able to buy these lovely shoes. I’m momentarily consoled.

For the first time in a while I can focus on a screen so I watch a movie but fall asleep half way through. It’s isn’t a bad film at all, just sometimes something happens when I’m in bed watching a film, particularly when I’m drugged up to my eyeballs. I try to fight it but my body wins out.

Early Sunday morning I pay my bill and get a goodbye cuddle from my hostel hostess. She’s been worrying about me. Thinks I should stay longer. I think I need to get out of Sucre before I become yet another one of the travellers stuck here longer term. I don’t think the place is healthy for me.

Maybe Uyuni will be better? Somehow I doubt it. Sitting at an altitude of 3,669m, I know my pain isn’t over. But I’m on the bus and heading to my friends who will surely be buzzing with incredible stories of all-nighters and special connections and amazing skies and scenery.

And, probably because I’ve been so damn unwell, actually I’m not really jealous. Yet.

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Dinner with someone else’s boyfriend

WHILST ANNA* LAY SICK IN bed, I went to dinner with her boyfriend. Before you judge me as some thieving little hussy, read on. She knew. She gave us her blessing.

Maybe she had a hunch that I wasn’t that type of girl. Maybe it was because me and Anna got on really well. Maybe she’s just not the jealous type and she trusted that her man wouldn’t stray. Or maybe, just because she was sick didn’t mean that she expected her boyfriend to stay home fawning over her. She wanted and expected him to go get on with things. And not necessarily alone.

Whatever the reason, I found her trust admirable. Because life and love whilst travelling, I’ve come to learn, are out to test every relationship going.

I’m sure there are people who it does work for, that there are people who are able to feel free from ties and really experience their travels without the constant reference to home or the other but still feel connected enough when they return, and that there are people who are faithful to each other across vast distances and despite having had such different experiences they’ll never be able to fully share.

But I’ve met many a person who has decided to leave their relationship back home or put it on hold in order to allow them to truly be free whilst travelling.

Freedom, they argue, has little to do with sleeping with someone else but rather it’s about following whatever adventure presents itself without consultation or compromise. And if, by chance, those adventures lead to the bedroom (or a beach or another hidey spot) then they want to feel free to go with the moment, not hold back.

And leaving a relationship back home is surely fairer than the behaviour of some travellers I’ve met who claim to have a partner back home, profess to missing them terribly, and then that very night share a bed and part of themselves with a stranger.

It has really made me think about relationships on the road. If you’re travelling together, that’s a challenge in itself, but something that can strengthen your connection with new, shared experiences and adventures. But, if your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse isn’t with you on a longer stint of travel time, it seems almost an impossibility that you’ll last.

Of course we all need moments of freedom and independence from our close relationships, but planning on being away from your boyfriend for two years, as one girl I met had decided, just seemed a little silly to me, particularly since she seemed to be unconsciously searching for a substitute only two months in.

Anna was right about me, and I liked her a lot. She was a good, honest, fun girl. Her and her boyfriend were a fantastic couple who I’m sure I’ll see again in my life. Of course I had no intention of chasing him, of hurting her. Despite what people might think about solo travelling girls, we’re not all single and we’re not all on the prowl. Some of us, believe it or not, just want to travel and meet lots of different people without any added complications.

So I went out for food with Anna’s boyfriend. We ate at a place where we bumped into other travel friends and it wasn’t intimate or awkward or anything like that because, like Anna, he was a good person too. No funny business.

There are a fair few good ‘uns out there.

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*names have been changed

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Sucre markets make me happy

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Fruit and veg at the Mercado Central, Sucre

Dinosaurs and karaoke aside, Sucre has a more worthy sight worth visiting: the central market. Over and over I lost myself in a wander through mazes of stalls, feasting my eyes on colourful stacks of fruit and vegetables, cakes and candies, spices and sauces.

I chatted to a couple of Dutch travellers who said that back home they rarely go to the market but here in South America they can’t stay away, and I thought, yep, it’s the same for me. So what’s that all about?

The alternative to the markets are the supermarkets, of which there are two close to the centre of town. Compared to European standards, these supermarkets are teeny and they are fairly well hidden and under populated. The one time that I visited the ‘big’ one I was surprised to find a somewhat under stocked ghost shop. A total contrast to the usual supermarket experience.

The rich people shop in the supermarket’, my Spanish teacher told me, ‘they don’t tend to buy at the actual market.’ ‘But the food is so good there’, I argued. I didn’t get it.

Realistically, though, I did get it: it is about convenience and excuses.

Back in my old existence, life was full. Independent sellers had closed by the time I wound up working for the day. Fruit and veg, meat and fish, all the things that are better fresh from a proper, local source, I bought these in the supermarket on my way home. Weekends would have been the time to go to the markets and to visit these specialist shops but those two precious days off? – I couldn’t bear to give them – or a single moment of them – over to shopping. So it was a choice. Possibly, a pretty bad choice.

Because since travelling in South America, I have discovered the joys of the markets: the bustle, the colour, the fusion of smells, the scurry of crowds, the sale songs. Hacked up animal parts and snouts might not do much for me, but the fresh fruit juices and simple, cheap meals quickly became favourites of mine.

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One of many entrances to Mercado Central

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Behind the scenes

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Best place to stock up on veggies

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Chamomile and aloe vera amongt other things at Mercado Central, Sucre

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Cow snout and tongue, anyone?

It became a habit, then, that each time I arrived into a new town I had to go check out the main market. And quickly.

After my friend Max introduced me to buñelos, trojori and api, I made it a habit to breakfast upstairs in the market during my three week stay in Sucre, building rapport with the vendor and introducing other backpackers to the magic and busyness of the local way to start the day.

I quickly discovered that I preferred to drink trojori (or api blanco) over api morado, it’s thick, sweet, yellow warmth with chunks of softened corn giving me energy for the day. I heard that trojori is loaded full of nutrients and is often given to breastfeeding infants when their mothers can’t produce enough milk. Having been through the mill with continuous illness where my diet consisted predominantly of antibiotics, it felt good to give my body something wholesome and rich and warming.

And buñelos! Ah! What can I say? An indulgent doughnut style pastry over which you could choose to either sprinkle icing sugar powder or drizzle syrup. Granted, a little greasy and not particularly healthy but everyone, from businessmen having a quick bite before work to street children looking for a hand out, joined in the enjoyment of these treats.

Overall, a cheap, rich breakfast that is probably far too high in sugar and fat, but it definitely helps start the day nicely in such a chilly climate. Expect to pay 1Bs. (£0.09/US$0.14) for two buñelos, or together with a trojori or mixto drink Bs.3.50 (£0.32/US$0.50).

So… if you’re ever over South America way, don’t get scared off by the worry of chaos and hygiene in the marketplace. Instead, wind your way through the colourful stalls, sit yourself down in amongst locals and order up a home-cooked dish. You may well not know what you’re actually eating but that’s all part of the fun, right?!

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Filed under bolivia, culture, food & drink, south america

An out-of-love letter (or a one-sided love story)

English: Broken Love Heart bandage

English: Broken Love Heart bandage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not a secret that I have had a bit of a thing for South America. But this story isn’t about that, either. Or maybe it is a little, because this love story is about the attempted destruction of my love affair with South America.

I have always intended to keep romantic relationships out of my blog, but on this occasion I’ll break my own rules. And in any case, it’s not a particularly romantic story, just a slightly frustrating, sickening and one-sided love affair that could remain private but won’t do anyone any harm by revealing its sordid details.

Dear E,

We’ve been travelling companions now for how long now? On and off, for the last nine months? Something like that. You know I can’t say that they’ve been good times, don’t you? Yet still you keep coming back for more. Why? Why me?

To be fair, I’ve felt the twinges in my stomach many times over. In that respect this isn’t one-sided. But we’re not talking butterflies here, not that wonderful, crazy feeling when you fall in love. Nope, we are talking about twinges, and cramps, and gurgling and all things uncomfortable.

I tried the ignoring technique but your presence is undeniable. I tried to drink and dance to forget, but it was only a momentary distraction and once the hangover subsided you were well and truly back in my life. And I wish you weren’t.

I went to see someone. I needed professional help; it had got to that stage. Again. I tried to explain the impact that you’ve had on my life. I felt understood. It’s not just me that thinks you’re annoying, that enough is enough, you know?

And whilst the professionals figured out how to deal with you, friends told me to build myself up, to stay healthy. I drank carrot and orange juice at the market, despite one of the vendors telling me it’s an ugly drink. I took probiotic supplements. I cooked healthy food. I went to bed early.

But the fighting worsened. It was unbearable. Your final attempts doubled me over in coughing pain; misery accompanied by crying eyes and a running nose and a battle raging in my belly. You did a good job of making me hate you.

Then I heard the news. You’d changed; you were not who I thought you were. No longer parasitical, you tried on a new outfit. Does e-coli suit you? No, quite honestly, no. Maybe if it was only e-coli then I could have fought you better but you were in vicious mode, taking on board acute bronchitis and sickness and fever as your allies. I was outnumbered.

I didn’t want to do it, but I had to. I needed rid of you. Down went the Flucoxin 200g. You laughed at my attempts.

I tried again. Stronger this time. Cefixima 400g. And I didn’t stop there, oh no! Down my throat trickled the rank mix of codeine fosfato and pseudoephedrine chlor. and clorfenamina maleate. Desperate times. You think I’m being nasty? I had to be. No choice. It was on the advice of the professionals. It’s out of my hands now.

So this is where we’re at. I don’t want to see you again. Shouldn’t each partner in a relationship feel strengthened by their connection? All you ever did was weaken me, make me tired.

Time to get out of my life. I’m not in love with you, I’m in love with South America. Please give our relationship a chance. And I’m sure, much as I hate to say it, that you’ll quickly find someone else.

Not yours (and never wanted to be),
Finola

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Doing my little bit for literacy levels in Bolivia

http://www.tourist2townie.com/culture-food/portraits-of-a-bolivian-book-fair-the-feelings-involved/

Big books, little kids and some high fives

So this was my last attempt at volunteering in Sucre. Third time lucky.

Realising he was still in town, I’d contacted Gareth of Tourist2Townie when I had arrived into Sucre to see about a catch-up and to gain some inside info on the city. He’d already been in Sucre for a couple of months getting acquainted with the locals and volunteering at Biblioworks, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving literacy and opening educational doors through building libraries, supplying books and training librarians in the poorest communities of Bolivia.

Literacy in Bolivia at first glance doesn’t appear to be terrible. Despite the country ranking number 101 out of 183, literacy levels come in at a reported 91%, just above Peru and Brazil (90%), higher than Ecuador (84%), but falling behind Paraguay (95%), Chile (96%) and Argentina (98%).

Despite this, illiteracy in Bolivia is, however, still deemed to be a big problem that is contributing to holding the country back from developing and improving their economic situation, something that Biblioworks echo in their mission statement:

We believe that where knowledge, literacy, and learning exist, people have the resources they need to solve social issues, maintain and strengthen their cultural identities, as well as to grow their community economically.

Gareth was involved in putting things together for Biblioworks’ first ever book fair. We could use all the help we could get, he told me. I asked him to let me know the time and place. I’d be there.

Saturday 14th April, 09:00. Posters decorated the town and Plazuela San Francisco was bannered up and ready for the occasion, La Feria de La Lectura. After a breakfast of sugar dusted buñelos and a warm trojori drink at the central market, I headed over to meet with the guys from Biblioworks. By coincidence I was wearing a bright yellow t-shirt. Turns out that yellow was uniform of the day. Tuned in, oh yeah!

School children threw themselves into all elements of the event. Small groups of boys group read together, classes played literacy games and competed with each other, kids wrote and listened and got inspired. It was beautiful to see.

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Out loud reading

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Literacy game play

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A longer term volunteer helps kids put their creative writing skills to the test

If I’m honest, my role on the day was pretty basic. Much of the time I photographed and videoed the activities. I gave out balloons. I handed out pens and paper to kids continuing a group story. I helped children choose books to read and then passed them on to someone who had a better grasp of Spanish. So although I again felt that I wasn’t really doing anything special or making a difference, being part of a group of volunteers felt good and as a whole we helped to make the event successful.

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Volunteers and school children at the event (me hiding at back right)

Hopefully some kids who might not have previously entered the world of reading and writing may now have sufficient thirst to pick up a book of their own accord or to write a story or a letter or whatever. Everyone certainly seemed to respond well. Focused concentration and big smiles punctuated the day (and I’m sure it wasn’t just the free balloons that did it).

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The world’s worst volunteer? Trying to be good in Sucre

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Run by friendly monks, this Catholic retirement home was my first volunteer placement

AFTER THE MONKEY INCIDENT, IT was a no brainer that I wouldn’t volunteer with animals. At least for the moment.

I’d hoped to teach English but with limited Spanish ability it wasn’t going to happen. ‘Where do they need help?’ I asked Stefano, the volunteer co-ordinator at the Sucre Spanish School.

A day later I found myself sitting and holding the hand of a little lady with weathered skin, poker straight white hair cut to a bob and a delighted smile ornamented with the odd giggle. She reminded me a little of the special needs adults that my parents care for.

It was a hopeless situation, a no starter of a conversation. Her lips clung around gunked-up false teeth as she mumbled away quietly. I tried to understand, really I did, but even with a clear pronunciation, the likelihood is I would have only understood marginally more. I felt stupid and sorry as she looked directly into my eyes, pleading me to respond with something other than ‘no entiendo’ or ‘no se’. It was frustrating.

Having met a few other characters and warm grandma types, I joined a mini Good Friday procession within the grounds of this Catholic old people’s home. Led by cloaked monks we shuffled along stone corridors, stopping regularly to repeat and respond to their calls. Finally we arrived at a little chapel.

More chanting, more singing. When people knelt or crossed, I bowed my head. I’m not really sure why, but it felt like the right, respectful thing to do.

I left the place smiling having spent the last half hour eating an early dinner with three Colombian monks who joked and chatted and pulled out  some kung fu moves. All a little surreal.

But my time at this place was short-lived. I wasn’t ready for the old people’s home just yet.

Another couple of visits and I was crawling the walls. Actually, no, I was simply sitting and smiling at old people, trying to talk, being grandly ignored when they couldn’t understand me, pushing the odd wheelchair, taking someone for an occasional walk and sitting in on Catholic rosary bead sessions where the repetition mixed with a good dose of tiredness nearly lulled me to sleep. Sitting up. Maybe the old people’s home was the right place for me after all.

I never like to let people down and I’m not one to shirk from a challenge but I felt as though I was making absolutely no difference. When I’d first arrived at the old people’s home I’d been waiting upstairs for my contact, Luis, when another monk lost in his own world suddenly saw me and got a bit of a  shock. ‘I thought you were an angel!’ he had exclaimed, throwing his hands up. What he probably realised pretty quickly is that I’m just another rubbish human being.

Because I quit. Sort of. I switched to a kindergarten. The orphanage was full; everyone, it seems, wants to help out disadvantaged kids. But the kindergarten needed help so I opted to give that a go. Second attempt at trying to do something useful.

My Spanish teacher had told me to stop struggling and Stefano easily arranged the transfer so that the very next day I started at a kindergarten, helping out babies and toddlers who possessed a similar level of language ability to me. I felt less stupid, less judged.

But I’ve never been a big fan of children, so would spending time volunteering in a kindergarten help switch things up?

Teaching teenagers in my previous life was just another way for me to challenge my fears and address any prejudices (and boy, did it work, because I met and taught some of the most fun(ny), open and interesting young people in the world). I got over that one. But babies and children?

In all honesty, its babies that I have more of an aversion to, with their strange, wrinkled skin and fragile fontanelle that has me running any time a friend asks me to hold their precious, little child. Dropping things is a reality in my life. Therefore, I avoid holding babies. And it’s not just the fragility, it’s the constant cry, puke, shit, sleep cycle. It just doesn’t work for me.

I suppose, when they smile I start to melt a little, but really, if I could honour the agreement I made with my sister when I was in my teens, any baby of mine would be in her care until it was past the six month mark and actually did something interesting. Do we still have a deal, Adilia? I’m only half-joking.

So here I was in Sucre on my second volunteer placement in a kindergarten full of little terrors aged between one and three. It was a way for me to see whether I was capable of warmth, whether I could deal with wiping snotty noses, with getting jelly and slobber stains on my clean trousers, with observing tantrums and playing repetitive ball games.

And of course I could. I guess I fell in love a little with each of the pre-school monsters, even the stern, trench coat wearing screamer. How could I not? He was the coolest kid in there.

Isn’t she a great mama?’ the kindergarten owner Doris asked a two-year old girl who had become totally attached to me. She just clung on tightly, wrapping little arms and legs around me. Maybe I was actually being helpful, and maybe I was starting to be okay with kids too. Only my fear of teeny babies to go.

And then I got sick. Of course. I should have guessed. Bolivia was continuing to punish me with a low immune system. With gleeful germs from the coughs and splutters of innocent kids whizzing around the kindergarten, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before I picked something up.

Ah, I tried. Thanks for the opportunity.

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Because everyone likes talking on a dinosaur phone

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Hello…? Anyone home?

Sucre might be a Unesco site full of colonial architecture and little pockets of beautiful surprises, but it is also known as the home of the ‘world’s largest collection of dinosaur footprints‘ in the fairly new site of El Parque Cretácico (Dinosaur Park). Here you can see over 5,000 ‘authentic dinosaur tracks‘ as well as lots of dinosaur replicas. Big ones.

If however, like me, rather than make the 40 minute trip out of the Sucre you decide to stick inside the town itself, there are still plenty of paleontological hints in the form of various dinosaur models that are scattered around the place, including down the steps at the Black Market.

And of course, there is the odd dinosaur phone box, which after a few drinks out in the town becomes everyone’s favourite toy. And friend. Pretend conversations? Really?! A load of nonsense! And a load of copycatting.

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What’s with the late night karaoke bars?

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Karaoke, baby. Just sing!

I hate karaoke but South America loves it. A slight conflict of interests, a potential deal breaker in our relationship. So when other travellers that I met in Sucre suggested that karaoke bars were the after bar choice, I can’t say that I was delighted. Hanging out with them, sure, but the singing? Really?

Ever since I was a thirteen year old girl thrown on stage with new holiday friends to sing a song I didn’t know, I have been scarred. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun came out as

Girls just Need To Have Singing Lessons,

or in my case,

Girls Just Need to Have Access to Modern Music and Listen To the Radio And The Top 40 (and Not Get Brought Up On Simon and Garfunkle, The Beatles and Beethoven) So That They Can Fit in With Other Normal Teenagers.

It’s only now that I’m grateful for the musical education of my childhood (which went beyond the aforementioned) but at the time it was crippling. I had a lot of catching up to do. Whilst I’d never be cool, I could at least work towards fitting in.

So now here I was in Sucre, a beautiful South American city sitting at an altitude of 2,750m and composed of colonial and neoclassical buildings, Bolivia’s judicial capital and a Unesco Cultural Heritage site. Somewhere, then, that I should be broadening my understanding of the country’s history and traditions.

But oh no! Instead I found myself with a great bunch of other travellers playing dice games in bars with locals and indulging in a few too many mojitos and tequila shots as evenings pushed on into early mornings. Capirinhas and coke flowed freely, propping people up for nights in the bars and the clubs… and the karaoke bars.

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Oh no! Tequila makes an appearance

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Pit stop for cow heart kebabs

Each time I ended up in Vitrolas Karaoke & Discoteque, I searched the song list for a good while. Maybe, just maybe there would be something that would jump out at me, where I’d think hell yeah, I know it so well, it’s the right pitch for my voice, I can get up and sing and not make a total tit of myself, but it never happened. Maybe I should have joined the coke crew. All I really needed was some courage. Some people had it in natural abundance. Not me, in relation to karaoke in any case.

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The terrible trio take to the stage. Not terrible singers, just terrible trouble. In a fun way.

And then after the karaoke bars I would dash back through a quiet, daybreak Sucre, back to my hostel and into a room of sleeping strangers that I knew I’d never meet because they’d pack up and leave before I awoke.

Too soon it would be midday; I’d get up and over brunch greet fellow partiers only just returning from continued hedonism. ‘Are you heading out tonight?’ they’d ask before disappearing off for some sleep. ‘Nah, need a break’, I’d say, but then night would arrive and peer pressure kicked in. Not that I tried very hard to fight it.

My will to go wild and have fun was strong, but my body wasn’t having it. It didn’t take long.

I crashed and burned.

So Sucre, time to see what else you have to offer. I sure love singing, whether it be in the shower, dancing about in my house or with friends around a campfire, but karaoke, save me the heartache.

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The typical gringo bars in Sucre include Joy Ride, Florins and the Amsterdam Bar (all with good WiFi), which also all serve (pricy) food – like pastel de quinoa – and regularly host cinema screenings. I spent a good few evenings in Biblio Café Classico to catch up with a friend who, following a midnight session dancing on the bar, had landed himself a job there.

Clubwise, I only got to Mooy, which cost $15b. entry for females and 20b for males. Saturday night drinks there started at 18Bs. for a caipirinha and 14Bs. for a bottle of beer. In Mooy the crowd was predominantly Bolivian and the music a Western-South American mix. And the oft visited karaoke bar Vitrolas Karaoke & Discoteque is an underground, under populated place fronted by a wild man with long, rock star hair and a well-rehearsed singing voice. Maybe he used to be a rock star after all?! The crowd in there was a real mix of locals and gringos. Friday nights were busiest.

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